I’m six months away from becoming an optometrist.
It’s not that I didn’t think that I would make it this far, it’s that I can’t believe that I’m here already. Optometry school is an immersive experience: once you enter the NECO family, you’re consumed by classes, friends, and clinic. You quickly realize that your dedication to the field and desire to learn and help others will be what inspires all the hard work. But while you’re working, while you’re striving, it never quite strikes you to stop, take a moment, and think: I’m three years away from becoming an optometrist. Two years. One year. These are vague, abstract stretches of time, which can seem insurmountable the night before an exam or the moment you register to take your first part of Boards.
So, here I am. I have one week left at my current rotation site, and I’m six months away from becoming an optometrist.
Fourth year is a completely different experience from the rest of optometry school. It’s why I can finally take the time to see the end of school in months, not years. The reason for this is that fourth year forces you to consistently evaluate yourself as a clinician and a prospective optometrist. What are you good at? What do you need to work on? What areas of optometry are you most interested in? What could you bring to the table at a practice? Where do you want to live? Where do you want to work? Who do you want to be?
Unlike previous years, fourth year is spent entirely in clinic at four three-month-long rotations that can be located within Boston or at sites around the country. There is even a rotation site offered in China. It’s an opportunity for you to explore different career options and work environments, and to learn from preceptors with different teaching styles and unique opinions on practicing optometry.
I spent my first rotation at a private practice in Virginia. I chose the site because when I was applying to optometry school, I was set on the idea of one day opening my own practice, and this idea has followed me throughout my time at NECO. I wanted to see what the running of a practice was like from the inside, and see how the flow and patient population differed from the clinic settings I was accustomed to working at in Boston.
I worked initially with three doctors at the practice, although a fourth started soon before I left for my next rotation. Although one doctor focused on contact lens patients, another on pediatrics and vision therapy, and the last on ocular disease, I was impressed with the way the practice functioned as a cohesive patient management team. The doctors at the practice specialized according to their strengths and interests, but worked together and with technicians, opticians, and front desk staff to provide effective and efficient patient care. Teamwork was consistently emphasized, as well as the importance of setting and meeting individual goals geared toward improving the practice as a whole.
In addition to a significant amount of contact lens experience, in Virginia I was exposed to a lot of what we call “problem focused urgent care visits,” which are when a patient presents with an urgent issue. I saw several different types of red eyes, including an ulcer from contact lens overwear and an extremely large recurrent corneal erosion–and my first retinal detachment. When a patient presents to you saying “half of the vision in my right eye is gone,” it can be a very scary moment for you as well as the person sitting in your exam chair; I was lucky to be working in a facility where my preceptor and I could immediately obtain imaging, diagnose the problem, and send the patient to a nearby surgical center.
I was also able to improve my pediatric exam techniques at this rotation by working with children from age three to teenagers. If you’ve ever attempted to dilate the eyes of a sobbing five-year-old, you’ll know that pediatrics isn’t always the easiest modality, but it can be one of the most fun and rewarding—especially when you get that rare child who, when you ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” replies, “An eye doctor!”
My second rotation has been at a VA hospital in New England. All NECO students are required to have at least one VA rotation site during their fourth year; I’ll also be at a VA hospital for my final rotation this spring. I can’t begin to tell you here how inspirational and impactful this rotation has been to me, but I will in my next post. In the meantime, I’ll be moving back to Boston for my third rotation, located at a community health center in the city, and celebrating Thanksgiving with my family in Buffalo.